By Vinnie Abbatecola
For a pre-Halloween festivity, I jumped at the chance to attend a midnight showing of the new-found footage horror film, Paranormal Activity 3, directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost.
What started out as a modest ghost story with a shoe-string budget has now generated a wildly popular horror trilogy, with each installment successfully topping each other. This one, however, goes a scare beyond.
As a prequel to the previous two films, this third entry takes place 18 years prior in 1988. We see Katie (Katie Featherston, Paranormal Activity 1 and 2) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden, Paranormal Activity 2) as sisters at a younger age, portrayed by Chloe Csengery (Parenthood) and Jessica Tyler Brown (Without a Trace) respectively.
When Kristi begins talking to her imaginary friend Toby, bizarre things begin to happen throughout their home. Her father Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith, The Office) decides to set up cameras in several rooms to try and find some ghostly activity, and her mother Julie (Lauren Bittner, Bride Wars) dismisses Kristi’s behavior as normal for a child.
But when Toby begins to harass the family with spooky and dangerous actions, its seemingly ordinary life turns into a nightmare that grows more horrifying with each passing day.
The forte of the film, as with the previous two, is its effective use of camerawork to derive much of its terror. There are three camcorders set up in the house, one in the parents’ bedroom and another in the daughters’ bedroom.
But the placing of the third camcorder is the one that strikes you with the most trepidation. It’s placed on the base of an oscillating fan in the living room, and its view tracks back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen.
The suspense piles on as it goes from room to room, and viewers sit frozen in the theater, not knowing what will be waiting when the fan goes back to the kitchen or the living room.
The movie, in some instances, utilizes off-screen space to add to its eerie atmosphere. On a few of the nights when we see the daughters’ bedroom, Kristi wakes up, goes to the corner of the screen and talks to Toby. The demon is out of the frame, so we can’t see him as she’s talking to him, nor do we ever actually see the demon in these films. But, we can tell that Toby is visible to Kristi, and he’s definitely there in her room at that time.
You hear a lot of people referring to an exciting story as a “roller coaster ride.” That comparison is often overused, but it certainly works for this film. Every scene is, in fact, like a roller coaster ride. At the beginning of each one, we’ll ascend as we wait in frightened anticipation for the inevitable jolt-moment.
We can’t really tell when the top of the hill will come, because the big “Boo!” can arrive at any instant. But when it does, we as an audience scream together as we immediately descend. Then, we are thrown for a loop at the bloodcurdling finale that is always the supreme scare for all three movies.
Two years ago when I saw the first Paranormal Activity, I had trouble believing that the filmmakers could make a sequel without spitting on the original. They ended up making a prequel that not only topped the first, but also lived up to the mythology that was established by the first film.
Then, after viewing Paranormal Activity 2 a year ago, I had even more difficulty thinking that a third film could be made, especially after the sense of closure we had at the end.
Now, I can say that after seeing Paranormal Activity 3, I can eat my own skepticism. The screenplay by Christopher B. Landon ties well into the previous two movies and answers many questions that, until now, have remained a supernatural mystery. It brings this trilogy-in-reverse to a full finish.
Hopefully this time next year, I’m not lamenting this horror series being tarnished by a needless fourth movie. I think it’s time for the demon to pack his bags and move on, because he has given us enough enjoyably nerve-piercing scares to be thankful for.